For some reason, our society values socializing with people who purportedly love us, especially at the holidays. But sometimes the people we love — or moreover, the people they love — can be the absolute worst. And sometimes, the best way to deal with such people (in-laws; sister’s boyfriends; that estranged uncle who can’t stop leering at your girlfriend) is to numb your misery with the sweet intoxication of alcohol.
But exactly what pace of drinking will keep you at the perfect level of, “I can easily deal with these annoying people for one afternoon,” without slipping all the way into scream-crying about familial slights and arguments that have been anything but long forgotten?
We put the question to some experts.
Thea Engst and Lauren Vigdor, authors of Drink Like A Bartender: Our rules for taking the edge off are simple. First, we never drink before we eat, which is easy around our families because there’s always breakfast, lunch and apps readily available before dinner. Either way, always establish a base in your stomach or the alcohol will go straight to your head. Once that happens, there’s no going back: You’ll be crying about a mean name your cousin called you when you were 13 and asleep on the couch by noon.
We also like to start with a nice glass of champagne or bubbles with our apps, before switching to wine for dinner. Beer takes up too much precious stomach real-estate, and we’re assuming there’s pie to be had. We save the hard alcohol for after dinner. You’ve now been eating all day and have had a couple glasses of wine, so you’re feeling all warm and gooey inside — time for a Manhattan or a whiskey to lull you safely into your holiday coma as all of your family’s annoying but well-intentioned questions fade softly into the background.
Jack Zeller, guy with a ton of in-laws: Fortunately for me, years of experience with my father-in-law’s Sidecars means I’ve learned my lesson many times over: One’s not enough, two’s too many and three’s not enough again. So if I manage to steer clear of those for at least the first hour of the party, there will inevitably be some poor soul who 90 minutes ago was all like, “Sidecar, huh? What’s in that again?” and is now shoveling Aunt Mimi’s buffalo dip into an empty martini glass with his fingers and slurring through his opinion on the Electoral College. Once that happens, I’m free to get as drunk as I want and no one will know the difference.
Abbey Sharp, registered dietitian: I’m not going to lie, I like a good drink. And sometimes I feel it’s absolutely necessary to get me through a meal with my in-laws. But I’m an adult, and adults don’t deal with hangovers very well, so I’ve learned how much is enough. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, moderate alcohol consumption is up to one drink per day for women, and up to two drinks per day for men. I know it’s hard to stick to that, but I feel my best (and enjoy the rest of my weekend best) when I do. To help stretch out my drink, I sometimes ask for a wine spritzer (half white wine and half soda water) or opt for a cocktail stretched with juice like this Apple Pie Mimosa.
I know when I’m over-reaching my booze balance when I start to feel a bit tipsy going to the ladies room, or when I can’t hold my tongue when political conversations come up at the dinner table. Ultimately, I know that drinking too much one night is going to make me feel gross the next morning, not to mention potentially cause riffs in my family.
Erin Goodheart, clinical director at Caron Addiction Treatment Center: To keep holiday parties a festive time instead of a night you’d rather forget (or worse), a few tips can be helpful:
- Make reasonable requests or contributions. It’s perfectly acceptable, for example, to request or offer to bring non-alcoholic drinks to your next holiday function.
- Alternate with non-alcoholic beverages. If you choose an alcoholic beverage to kick off the party, try to switch to water or a non-alcoholic option after your first drink. Also avoid carbonated drinks as they make your body absorb the alcohol more quickly.
- Don’t look the other way. It’s easy to excuse some behaviors due to the nature of the season, but doing so can also be detrimental. If a close colleague or loved one appears to have issues with alcohol this holiday season, don’t be afraid to approach him or her about it. However, it’s always best to gently and privately discuss your feelings with your friend the next day and in a non-judgmental way. Focus on showing support and letting them know how much you care.
- Enlist a buddy. If you’re trying to eliminate or cut down on alcohol this holiday season, having someone with you who understands and encourages your goals will help you reach them.
- Don’t give alcohol the spotlight. There are enough things to celebrate this season that alcohol certainly doesn’t need to take center stage at your party.
Have an exit strategy prepared so you can politely excuse yourself before things get too rambunctious.
Steve Myers, father of five (including the writer of this article): Having attended 70-something Thanksgiving gatherings in my lifetime and having observed and experienced the effects of alcohol upon those gathered, I offer this approach: First, carefully assess those attending and their respective rate/level of consumption. In my case, this means determining (a) whether my brother-in-law has arrived; and (b) whether he’s started drinking.
You see, my brother-in-law is constantly peddling his latest, preposterous business exploits, about which he will corner any and all family members to talk about, especially when liquor is served.
Irrespective of the answer to (a), if the answer to (b) is no, I make the same assessment of the other guests and look forward to pacing my drinking throughout an enjoyable holiday. If the answer to (b) is yes, however, I assess his rate/level of consumption and look for the nearest bottle with octane sufficient to outpace him. Otherwise, dealing with him will be impossible and/or capable of ruining a perfectly nice holiday gathering. With this strategy, I’ll merely be numb to his exploits; the booze chilling me out in this context.
Warning: This protocol may lead to loss of hearing, but in my case the risk-reward is worth it. Fill in your own relative of derision, of course, but you get the picture.